A study has found that poor oral health can increase the risk of different brain issues, such as a stroke, dementia and cognitive decline.
Published in Neurology, the study found that periodontitis or missing teeth can lead to parts of the brain atrophying – degenerating – as it ages.
This is because poor oral health can affect the health of the hippocampus – a part of the brain involved in memory, learning and emotion. The hippocampus is also vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.
The study involved 172 people aged 55 or older without memory issues in Ohasama, Japan. At the start of the research, each participant had a dental exam to check for periodontitis, a memory test, and an MRI scan to measure the volume of their hippocampus. Four years later, the participants then had a second MRI scan to measure the level of cognitive decline.
The results show a link between the number of teeth present and the degree of periodontitis with changes in the hippocampus.
For those with mild periodontitis, the findings showed a faster rate of brain atrophy when they had fewer teeth. However, for those with more severe periodontitis, brain atrophy developed at a quicker rate for those with more teeth.
‘Detrimental to the brain’
The study’s researchers are from the division of aging and geriatric dentistry at Tohoku University, Japan. As tooth loss and periodontitis are widespread issues, the research team thought it was important to investigate their connection to brain issues.
Satoshi Yamaguchi is the study author. He said: ‘Retaining more healthy teeth without periodontal disease may help to protect brain health. It is important to retain more teeth, but retaining more teeth with severe periodontal disease may be detrimental to the brain.
‘It has also been suggested that the pathogen of periodontal disease itself may invade the brain and damage nerve tissue. Fewer teeth reduce chewing stimulation, which can also lead to brain atrophy.
‘It is important to retain more teeth, but retaining more teeth with severe periodontal disease may be detrimental to the brain. Regular dental visits are important to control the progression of periodontal disease, and teeth with severe periodontal disease may need to be extracted and replaced with appropriate dentures.’
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